The Romantic period
The Romantic period, which can be framed between the late 18th to the early 19th century, was marked by social, political and intellectual revolution - The Romantic period introduction. The Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution in 1789 radically changed the world view of many. The emergence of the modern world was marked by a dichotomy of new possibilities and the fear of losing old certainties.
The Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were no exception to these twin emotions of hope and fear. Their poems reflect that tension of progress and loss, particularly the loss of nature with the rise of industrialism. It is also the fear of changing human relations and the march towards materialism and consumption. Thus many of their poems celebrated Nature and its beauty and this formed the core concern in many of their poems. Nature was seen as a model for harmony and goodness. More importantly, Nature was a reflection of God and truth. These ideas can be seen in Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us” and Coleridge’s “To Nature.”
In “The World is Too Much with Us,” Wordsworth mourns for the loss of nature. Man has given their hearts away to progress and to development, and their only concern now is “Getting and Spending.” We have become “out of tune” to the “Sea that bares her bosom to the moon.” The reader can feel Wordsworth’s sense of lament mingled with anger for Nature “moves us not.” The poem thus reveals the tensions earlier mentioned about progress and loss. Here, Wordsworth writes of that conflict between nature and humanity and it is most prophetic in many ways for even today, we are trapped in the same dilemma. Unlike those who see little in Nature, Wordsworth believes that she should not be a commodity.
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Wordsworth’s personification of the sea and flowers also reveal an attitude of reverence and equivalence. Nature is alive and has an identity like humans yet “little we see in Nature that is ours.” Like all other Romantic poets, Wordsworth saw himself as a visionary and bard to call humanity to an awakened state of knowing. Here is it revealed in the final lines where he sees himself standing on a pleasant lea and seeing Proteus and Triton rise from the sea.
Coleridge’s “To Nature” is a more optimistic and positive celebration f the curative powers of Nature but the theme of celebrating Nature and her powers remain consistent as with other Romantic Poets. Yet there is a subtle revelation of how the general populace regards Nature. Echoing Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us,” Coleridge believes “It may indeed be fantasy, when [he] essay to draw from all created things deep, heartfelt, inward joy.” These lines, and the choice of the word “fantasy” suggest that Coleridge shares a different view of Nature from many of his fellowmen. The following lines “So let it be; and if the wide world rings in mock of this belief, it brings nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity” further reinforces a reading of how Coleridge prizes nature in ways progress, and those who embrace it, do not.
Coleridge further uses the imagery of a mass occurring in a cathedral and compares Nature to them. Nature is thus a reflection of God and godliness. Nature reveals the magnificence of God and as much as it is His creation, it is also an offering. The altar in which Coleridge builds is in the fields and the blue sky the dome of the cathedral. The incense offered, as it would be in a mass, is compared to the sweet smells of wild flowers. Like Wordsworth’s poem, “To Nature” ends on an uplifting note, one of hope and exaltation of Nature.